Hertford Inner Relief Road
By Bryan Little
For many people Hertford has always had a relief road but for those of you with longer memories it was once blighted by traffic congestion through the centre of the town and around its environs. The system of roads in and around Hertford had evolved over a period of time, when the motor car was the province of the rich and famous.
In the early 60s, the motor car was clogging the arteries leading to the heart of Hertford. The only solution seemed to be some sort of relief scheme. Negotiating the narrow streets and numerous junctions became a daily nightmare every rush hour. Traffic surveys had revealed the extent of the through traffic trying to get somewhere else. Something had to be done ...but what? The extension to the A10 trunk road across The Meads between Hertford and Ware was a distant dream. The council’s highways department decided that the only solution was to build a relief road around the centre of Hertford. However, it did not want to create a ‘shopping island’ where the traffic circumvented Hertford and the shopping centre became the Marie Celeste of the retail world.
Something had to be done but which scheme would be the lesser of the proposed evils. I have been sifting through the files of the council’s highways department that were responsible for building the road. The relief road or the ‘inner relief road’ was proposed to attract traffic away from the centre of the town but caused the minimum of disruption to the inhabitants of Hertford. This inner proposal scooted around the hot spots close to Hertford, as opposed to the later outer relief road which took a wider sweep to the south of Hertford, from the west of Hertingfordbury to the Rush Green roundabout.
Division of spoils
I pondered how to present the volume of information, however my patience was rewarded by the Hertfordshire County Council themselves. In one of the last bundles of documents, I found plans for water pipes, gas mains, electricity cables, telephone wires, underpass plans and ground water falls.
The length of the inner relief road project (from west east) was divided into 4 sections:
Hertingfordbury Road and North Road
St Andrew Street and Castle Meads
West Street, Castle Street and Queens Road
All Saints Church, back of Fore Street and the junction outside Christ’s Hospital.
The task of exploring such a vast subject as the building of the Hertford Inner Relief Road is that it consists of a myriad of topics and sub-topics. As I worked my way through the council papers, I uncovered certain gems that have been lost in the annals of time. Of course there are reams upon reams of correspondence between solicitors acting for each individual and the county valuation officer.
This is the first of a series of articles that charts the building of the inner relief road from conception, through the planning stages, compulsory purchase of land, demolition of buildings and construction of the carriageways to the opening of the bypass.
Originally, traffic survey s wer conducted in the late 1950s to determine the difference between journeys that were destined for Hertford Town itself and traffic that was “just passing through” on its way to other places in the south-east of England. This was followed by a full blown inquiry conducted by the Ministry of Transport into the pros and cons of the traffic system. As a result, a series of recommendations were published which gave the go ahead for the scheme. This plan was translated into a number of compulsory purchase orders. In total the county council ear-marked 118 different plots of land in order to establish the scheme. Many of the plots were a couple of square yards here and a couple of square yards there. The Hertford Borough Council owned about ? of the land needed. However, it still required them to transfer ownership as well as finding alternative accommodation for the departments and staff. Slowly the county council acquired the land when agreement was reached on the price of the land. Some of the buildings were demolished to make way for the road. Work was started in earnest on the carriageways in spring 1965. The bypass was completed over 2 years later. The relief road was opened in November 1967, with a 60% reduction in trade reported by the shops in Hertford.
Like all history a lot of information comes from the local paper (The Hertfordshire Mercury); the lifeblood of the community. As well as detailing the official party line of the county and local council, it printed the counter-claims of businesses, shops and people who would be affected by the plan. It also printed letters that determined the valuation of the land and the amount of compensation the county council were prepared to pay.
I was aware that Hertford was the county town of Hertfordshire from a very early age but became fascinated by the building of the inner relief road when I moved to Hertford just after it was built. Therefore my task was to seek out the route of the road, the stages involved in the planning of a major road scheme and the places that it affected. My aim was to uncover any photographs of Hertford prior to the construction of the road.
Do you have any recollection of those days when the traffic converged on the centre of Hertford?
Do you have any photographs that record the idyllic paradise that was the county town of Hertfordshire in the early 60s?
Do you have any stories about the businesses, shops and houses that were demolished to make way for the super-highway through Hertford?
If so, I look forward to hearing from you.